The Value of Sports

Whitewater has had athletic successes in our district and on campus. Our high school and local university have witnessed impressive state & national accomplishments. Few cities have done so well. It’s been my pleasure to attend and cheer for Whitewater’s high school and college teams. I was graduated from another school, but like so many residents (college and non-college), the success of UW-Whitewater’s athletes and coaches is admirable to me.

For those on campus: to you who have competed, and to those who have coached you, belong first and foremost those efforts and those accomplishments. Others (as I do) may wish you well and cheer you on, but these achievements are yours, enduringly and incorruptibly.

Not long ago, UW-Whitewater produced a supposed assessment of the economic value to the community of the university’s athletic programs. (See, from 11.18.15, It’s not much of a study, really, and its problem is not in the method (although that hardly seems strong), but in the very concept the report advances. (Conceptual failure is a deeper failing than method, by far.)

The brief summary, described as a report, isn’t written like a report at all – it’s written with an introduction that’s more press release than anything else:

With more than 550 participating athletes and fourteen national championships in the last ten years, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is a pinnacle of NCAA Division collegiate athletics. These athletic events bring an average of 54,910 people to the area every year, which has a profound economic impact on the immediate area….

So what’s wrong with the report? Conceptually, it’s flawed, even on its own terms: the economic value of athletic programs to the community is what the programs bring into Whitewater absent their presence. That is, the economic value is their incremental addition to the community.

This study fallaciously assumes that absent the presence of these programs, there would be no alternative economic activity to replace the programs under consideration. Economic activity is not a choice merely between a given impact from athletics and, let’s say, the alternative of no activity (as in, for example, a community afflicted with catatonia).

Understand what I’m saying: I support these programs, but this report fails to determine the right number for their value to the community. It’s just a flimsy analysis.

Since the study comes from a university, that’s a troubling thing.

The report was, however, certainly convenient, as it allowed UW-Whitewater’s Media Relations director Sara Kuhl to cite the study in reply to a Gannett Media investigative report on how UW-Whitewater has been giving out championship rings to non-athletes and non-coaches. See, from Gannett, UW school pays $112,000 for sports rings @ USA Today Network – Wisconsin.  For my own assessment of this – that rings are deserved for athletes and coaches, but not administrators, etc. – see, At UW-Whitewater, Far More Championship Rings Than Actual Athletes & Coaches.


(There is something, however, that this report does prove, conclusively, I think.  This report proves that there are versions of fishing lures that work on humans.  Just as fish will bite on any shiny thing that comes along, so both the Daily Union and Banner bit on Ms. Kuhl’s press release without question or reflection.

For the Banner, this was actually a top story of the year.  Next up, one guesses: Whitewater Cow Jumps Over the Moon, Innovation Center Patents Leaches as Medical Cure, and Cloning the Same Resident Fifteen-Thousand Times Will Fix Everything.)

For athletes and coaches: you don’t need this flimsy study to prove your worth to our community.  In your honest efforts on the court and on the field – win or lose – you already prove that worth, every single day.

5 comments for “The Value of Sports

  1. Rex
    01/15/2016 at 1:28 PM

    Great take on athletics.
    It goes back thousands of years but they sell it like some stupid detergent.

  2. G
    01/15/2016 at 1:40 PM

    Promoting sports is different from respecting it. The success comes from on the field not Hyer Hall.

  3. Joe
    01/16/2016 at 11:25 AM

    Who gets the “Value of Sports”? Clearly there is value to the coaches. Bo Ryan got paid $2.4M. For comparison, Ray Cross, the president of the UW system, made $0.425M, roughly 1/5 of what the basketball coach made. Bo made that money for teaching and inspiring kids to run up and down a floor and throw a ball thru a hoop. Not a lot of lasting worth to society, but clearly a valued skill.

    The Athletic department at the UW-Madison has 346 employees, which certainly share in the value of sports. They have huge sports arenas in which to perform ritual acts of tribal proxy warfare. The UW-MSN Athletic Department budget for 2014 was $108M.

    The value, though, at least the financial value, doesn’t seem to trickle down the the folks actually doing the performing. Sure, the jocks get room and board and a laundry allowance. They also get tuition, sometimes. For that they work really long hours, under great pressure, and live with the realization that all of the hits they take on the field will live with them the rest of their lives.

    It is hard to refute the observation that modern collegiate athletics is an extension of the plantation system of yesteryear. A bunch of young, strong, mostly black, kids busting their asses for a white guy making millions sitting on the sidelines telling them what to do.

    It is high time that the NBA and the NFL start doing what MLB has been doing for a century: Pay the athletes on their farm teams, which is what the NCAA is, for the most part. Exploiting young athletes to sacrifice their health for tribal rituals that pay rather handsomely for those not actually performing out on the field and not much for those that do is just wrong.

    It is far past time to spread the “Value” of sports around.

  4. Karl
    01/16/2016 at 2:21 PM

    if we got all the money these “studies” say we get the stores wouldn’t be closed/empty. just more kool aid from the top.

  5. G
    01/16/2016 at 2:24 PM

    The only people making money from these studies about making money are the ones writing the studies!